The new ‘Hare Krishna Training Centre’ in Nairobi, Kenya, has become a popular accommodation destination for local students, who are chanting, studying Srila Prabhupada’s books, and following the four regulative principles of Krishna consciousness.
The idea germinated when manager Govinda Prema Das and others began trying to follow Prabhupada’s instructions to reach out to local Africans, rather than Hindus.
“It is an African country,” the ISKCON founder told Brahmananda Das, who was preaching in Nairobi in 1971. “They are the proprietors. We should be preaching to them.” Later that same year, he wrote to Chyavana, “I am very pleased to hear that the African boys are becoming serious devotees.”
As for the specific method of outreach, he wrote to Sudama, “Go on vigorously preaching in the university campuses,” and himself spoke at a University of Nairobi event in October 1971 that drew 2,000 people.
Preaching to local Africans in this way had varying amounts of success over the years in Nairobi, and was often a struggle. Devotees who tried to start Bhakti Yoga clubs at universities had trouble even getting appointments with the largely Christian management.
But in 2011, Govinda Prema made a breakthrough when he instead approached the deans of the hostels where students are accommodated.
“We made friends with them, gave them prasad, and they let us put up posters to advertise our twice weekly Simple Living, High Thinking Seminars,” he says.
These programs, held every Wednesday and Saturday at ISKCON Nairobi’s Bhaktivedanta Hall, started out with an audience of twenty. Today around 120 students from the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Mount Kenya University, and Zetech University attend.
“We teach from Prabhupada’s books The Science of Self Realization, Journey of Self-Discovery, and Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, showing them that his words and Vedic culture can be relevant in the modern world and improve their everyday lives,” Govinda Prema says.
After every four or five classes, students are given an exam, and at the end of the year, they ‘graduate’ and receive a certificate on ethics and morality.
“That way, when they go into the working world, employers can see that they took a character training program,” says Govinda Prema.
In 2015, after four years of offering these seminars to the residents of student hostels, devotees decided to establish their own hostel, called “The Hare Krishna Training Centre.”
“The idea is that students who have learned ‘Krishna conscious theory’ at our Simple Living, High Thinking Seminars can experience practical application at the Training Centre,” says Govinda Prema.
The Centre began with six students one year ago, and now has forty residents – all male, although there are also plans for a women’s Training Centre underway.
Every weekday, all the students attend a morning program of japa, an inspirational class and breakfast from 5:30am to 8:00am, then attend university until around 5pm. Back at the center for a shower and prasadam in the evening, they also have an evening japa session, a small kirtan and another class.
“The class syllabus begins with the qualities of a devotee, then moves on to Bhagavad-gita, Nectar of Instruction, Nectar of Devotion and Srimad-Bhagavatam,” Govinda Prema says. “The students are also given topics to give classes on themselves. For instance, recently one student who had been here for three months spoke on overcoming anger, telling the story of Durvasa Muni and Ambarisa Maharaja fom the Bhagavatam as an example.”
On Sundays, students attend the full morning program at the ISKCON Nairobi temple, do service throughout the day, and dance with abandon in a rocking kirtan in the evening.
“Students are attracted to stay at the Hare Krishna Training Centre by the cleanliness, the prasadam, the safety, the brotherly unity and association, and the philosophy,” Govinda Prema explains. “Sometimes parents visit, and are delighted to see their children living a clean, healthy lifestyle in a good place.”
Students usually stay at the Training Centre throughout their time at university, and afterwards remain congregation devotees in the greater ISKCON Nairobi community, introducing their wives to Krishna consciousness and coming to the temple regularly with their families.
“They feel that it gives them practical answers to the daily challenges in life,” says Govinda Prema. “We’ve had law students who are now working in court or in the parliament as assistants, and they really feel that the training they received with us has changed their lives for the better.”
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